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Composing Cultures

Modernism, American Literary Studies, and the Problem of Culture

Eric Aronoff

Publication Year: 2013

The term "culture" has become ubiquitous in both academic and popular conversations, but its usefulness is a point of dispute. Taking the current shift from cultural studies to aesthetics as the latest form of this discussion, Eric Aronoff contends that in American modernism, the concepts of culture and of aesthetics have always been inseparable. The modernist concept of culture, he argues, arose out of an interdisciplinary dialogue about value, meaning, and form among social critics, artists, anthropologists, and literary critics, including figures as diverse as Van Wyck Brooks, Edward Sapir, Willa Cather, Lewis Mumford, John Crowe Ransom, Raymond Weaver, and Allen Tate. These figures proposed new ways to conceive of culture that intertwined theories of aesthetic and literary value with theories of national, racial, and regional identity. Through close readings, Aronoff shows that disciplines and approaches that are often thought of as opposed—cultural anthropology and aesthetics, American literary history and literary criticism, and multiculturalism and regionalism—are in fact engaged in common debate and proceed from shared arguments about culture and form.

Published by: University of Virginia Press

Series: Cultural Frames, Framing Culture

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. i-vi


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xii

...Over the course of this project’s development, I have benefited from the conversation, advice, and support of many colleagues and friends. I would particularly like to thank Eduardo Cadava, Brad Evans, Scott Herring, Myra Jehlen, Walter Johnston, Jack Kerkering, Walter Benn Michaels, Steve Rachman, Guy Reynolds, Eric Santner, Leif Sorensen, Michael Warner, and Glenn Wilmott, each of whom in their own ways contributed to the substance and form of this book...

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Introduction: The Problem of Culture

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pp. 1-22

...In their recent survey of the state of literary studies, William B. Warner and Clifford Siskin argue that the time has come—as their title proclaims—for “stopping cultural studies.” For Warner and Siskin, the reason is straightforward: “culture is the problem with cultural studies” (104, emphasis in original). Before cultural studies, they claim, literary study struggled under the limitations of...

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1. Van Wyck Brooks and Edward Sapir: Divided America and the Form of Genuine Culture

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pp. 23-56

...This chapter sets the context for what I argue is the interdisciplinary debate over culture in early American modernism, and it lays out several key contours of that debate—contours that will in different ways in different disciplinary arenas structure debates within modernist anthropology, literary criticism, and “Americanist” canon reformation. Specifically, I reveal the way in which the interdisciplinary...

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2. Possessing Culture: Willa Cather’s Aesthetic of Culture in The Song of the Lark and The Professor’s House

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pp. 57-84

...Cather’s description of the “great cosmopolitan country known as the Middle-West” was less a contribution to a unifying vision of “these United States,” and more a description of a transnational, polyglot region defined by its differences from the rest of the country. Reflecting what I have been arguing are emerging modernist versions of cultural pluralism—articulated in various ways by humanist critics like Van Wyck Brooks, Randolph...

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3. Cultures, Canons, and Cetology: Modernist Culture and the Melville Revival

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pp. 85-135

...nineteenth-century definitions of culture as a general process of development or refinement intertwined with new competing definitions of culture as “whole,” “meaningful” ways of life. As American intellectuals struggled to come to terms with the rapid economic, technological, and social changes of the century’s first decades...

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4. Recovering the Whole: Culture, Region, and Poetry in the Literary Criticism of John Crowe Ransom and Allen Tate

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pp. 136-180

...In his essay “Literature as Knowledge” (1941), Allen Tate tellingly begins his survey of recent semiotic and psychological theories of language not with a discussion of semiotics or psychology, but with a discussion of “culture”—specifically, the “Culture” of Matthew Arnold. Faced with “the accumulating body of the inert...

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Conclusion: Composing Critical Cultures

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pp. 181-194

...for American modernism between 1915 and 1941—a problematic that not only shaped the literary and other artistic compositions we think of as “modernist,” but also crucially shaped, in complexly parallel ways, the disciplines of anthropology, literary criticism, and American literary history as they emerged in their modern forms. As a problematic, or an orienting cluster of questions...


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pp. 195-218


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pp. 219-227

E-ISBN-13: 9780813934853
E-ISBN-10: 0813934850
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813934839
Print-ISBN-10: 0813934834

Page Count: 240
Publication Year: 2013

Series Title: Cultural Frames, Framing Culture
Series Editor Byline: Robert Newman See more Books in this Series

OCLC Number: 855907953
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Composing Cultures